March 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
EXCLUSIVE: 22 U.S. senators call for marriage equality plank in Dem platform

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is among the U.S. senators backing the inclusion of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A group of U.S. senators is joining the wave of LGBT rights supporters calling for an endorsement of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.

The Washington Blade received statements from the offices of 22 Democratic senators — including Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) — expressing support for including a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform. The Blade solicited statements from all 53 Democratic senators and will update this article as more senators respond.

The senators follow the lead of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who on Tuesday became the first U.S. senator this year to get behind the idea of including same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform. Shaheen, who’s also a co-chair of President Obama’s national campaign committee, said she backs a plank in support of marriage equality proposed by the LGBT organization Freedom to Marry.

In addition to calling for an inclusion of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform, the language also backs overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and passing DOMA repeal legislation known as the Respect for Marriage Act in addition to opposing state constitutional amendments aimed at blocking gay couples from marriage rights.

The 22 senators are Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

The platform committee is set to discuss and agree upon language in the Democratic Party platform when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C. Officials with Democratic National Committee have declined to comment on whether the platform will be “marriage-equality inclusive.

A number of senators issued statements to the Blade saying they want marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform without offering an explicit endorsement of language as proposed by Freedom to Marry:

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

“I support a pro-marriage equality plank. Discrimination in our marital laws or otherwise against any Coloradan or American because of sexual orientation is unacceptable. Two people who want to enter into a loving committed relationship should be afforded the same legally recognized rights and benefits I enjoys with my wife.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

“I strongly support marriage equality and efforts to make that a reality for all Americans, including adding marriage equality language to our party’s platform. I was proud to be one of the 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, and we cannot stop until we repeal this unjust law and start treating all our families with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)

“Of course marriage equality should be a part of the Democratic Party platform. It should be a part of the Republican Party platform, too. Whom you love should have no bearing on your access to the equal rights due every American citizen. It is time the law recognizes what the majority of Americans already recognize is a human right: marrying the person you love. Democrats have led the way in significant marriage equality victories in the states these last few years, so for the Democratic Party to not include marriage equality in our platform now would be to miss an important opportunity to reinforce and strengthen our continued national leadership on the issue.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

“As the author of the bill to repeal DOMA and one of 14 senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, I strongly believe marriage equality should be part of the Democratic platform.”

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)

“Marriage equality is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time, and the Democratic Party must address this issue in its platform. The New Jersey legislature bravely passed legislation to provide marriage equality in our state, and I have co-sponsored legislation in the Senate to repeal DOMA. We will continue this fight until same-sex couples have the right to marry and every family in our country is provided the same legal protections.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)

“Fundamentally, I do not view this as an issue of special rights, but simply one of equal rights. No American should have to wait outside a hospital room while their loved one suffers inside. No American should lose their inheritance simply because the federal government does not recognize the couple’s marriage. No child should feel that their parents are somehow less equal under the law than their best friend’s parents. This kind of discrimination cannot be tolerated in our society as a matter of law. Our world is changing and our society must change with them. I fully support making marriage equality a fundamental piece of the Democratic Party platform.”

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

“As you may know, Maryland recently passed legislation legalizing same sex marriage. Consistent with that, I would support the inclusion of language in the Democratic platform that calls for the repeal of DOMA, and the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act. I would also support language stating clearly that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that all Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, guaranteed by our Constitution.” (Rachel MacKnight, a Mikulski spokesperson, clarified her boss wants the inclusion of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.)

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

“Equality is something that has always been a hallmark of America and no group should be deprived it. Marriage equality is no different and it’s time for our nation to recognize that.” (Mike Morrey, a Schumer spokesperson, confirmed the senator wants same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform.)

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

“As a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, and a longtime believer in allowing all people the freedom to marry the one they love, I encourage the Democratic Party to stand together with those who want equality in marriage so they don’t have to face this battle alone.”

Other senators — including two where same-sex marriage was recently signed into law — went further and sent statements saying they back language as proposed by Freedom to Marry.

Freedom to Marry’s proposed language, included as part of its “Democrats: Say I Do!” campaign that was launched Feb. 13, follows. According to the organization, more than 28,000 people have the signed online petition in support of the language.

“The Democratic Party supports the full inclusion of all families in the life of our nation, with equal respect, responsibility, and protection under the law, including the freedom to marry. Government has no business putting barriers in the path of people seeking to care for their family members, particularly in challenging economic times. We support the Respect for Marriage Act and the overturning of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, and oppose discriminatory constitutional amendments and other attempts to deny the freedom to marry to loving and committed same-sex couples.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

“I believe in equality for all families and think we should be looking at ways to expand civil rights, not reduce them. I’m fully supportive of the language in question.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

“Yes, I support the inclusion of such language in the Democratic Party platform. I am a cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal DOMA and I am dedicated to ensuring protections against any form of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is consistent with the Maryland legislature’s passage of legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.)

“I think this is an historic moment for the Democratic Party in our commitment to equal opportunity and our opposition to discrimination. In its significance, it’s not unlike the floor fight Hubert Humphrey led at the Democratic convention in 1948 to make clear the Party’s commitment to civil rights for African Americans, but the difference is that back then we were a Party divided, whereas now I think it’s a mainstream Democratic position to care about these protections for gay Americans, and I’m proud of that. We’ve made big strides. We ended Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and that put a close to an era that one day will seem as antiquated as the days before President Truman desegregated the military. When we pass the Respect for Marriage Act, so too will the era of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act be anachronistic in a country where we don’t believe there should be any second class citizens. I support marriage equality and I think Massachusetts has taught the country an important lesson about how marriage equality can work. I was pleased to see New York and Washington follow that example. No one should be worried about a party platform that celebrates those advances.” (Whitney Smith, a Kerry spokesperson, said her boss supports Freedom to Marry’s language.)

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

“Fighting against discrimination in all its forms, including discrimination based on sexual orientation, is a hallmark of our party. I support passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, and I support efforts to ensure that government does not interfere with the freedom to marry.” (Tara Andringa, a Levin spokesperson, said her boss believes the platform committee should adopt the language proposed by Freedom to Marry.)

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

“I strongly support marriage equality for all Americans. It’s a question of fundamental fairness and the bedrock principle that we are all the same under the law. It should be part of the platform.” (Julie Edwards, a Merkley spokesperson, said her boss supports Freedom to Marry’s effort.)

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

“As a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act and a strong believer that we should be focused on broadening the civil rights of all Americans, this is certainly language that I would support.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

“This is an issue the American people are ahead of us on. It’s about time that our big tent party make it clear in its platform that every American, regardless of sexual orientation, should have the ability to marry the person they love, to make that public promise of commitment and mutual accountability in front of their family and friends, affirming their dedication to their partner by accepting the responsibility of marriage. I believe these bonds help strengthen our society.” (Jennifer Tallheim, a Udall spokesperson, said the senator supports Freedom to Marry’s proposed plank.)

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) in a statement from Freedom to Marry:

“I’m proud to join Freedom to Marry’s ‘Democrats: Say, I Do’ campaign. Along with the more than 20,000 Americans who have already signed the online petition, I call on the Democratic Platform Committee to affirm the freedom to marry in our party’s national convention platform this September.  Any Democratic statement of core beliefs about the importance of families must include all our families, gay and straight.  Our party has a long tradition of leading the charge on important questions of justice.  Now is the time for the Democratic Party to stand up for the rights of same-sex couples and their families.”

Spokespersons for Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said their bosses support this language, but didn’t provide statements attributable to their respective senators.

Similarly, Bethany Lesser, a spokesperson for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), also told the Blade her boss, the Senator, supports the plank as written by Freedom to Marry.

“As a lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, and a tireless advocate in the fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, Sen. Gillibrand is helping to lead the fight for equality in the Senate,” Lesser said. “There will be a clear contrast in this election between the two parties on issues of equality, justice and fairness.”

Kate Cyrul, a spokesperson for Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), said her boss supports including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform, but isn’t endorsing any specific platform language. Ed Shelleby, a spokesperson for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) also said the senator support including marriage equality language in the platform.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, praised these senators for their endorsements and said his organization looks forward “to working with them and their Democratic colleagues to move forward this crucial plank.”

“These senators from across the nation all know firsthand that marriage matters to gay and lesbian couples, their kids, and their kin,” Wolfson said. “Their support shows real momentum among Democrats to make sure that the party does what the Democratic Party does at its best — fight discrimination in all its incarnations and lead the way forward toward a more perfect union.”

The offices of other senators responded to the Blade’s solicitation in other ways. David Carle, a spokesperson for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), noted he has taken a lead role in the effort to repeal DOMA in the Senate, but added “as far as potential platform issues are concerned, no groups have discussed ideas with him.”

Spokespersons for the offices of Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said they had no comment on including same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform. The offices of other senators didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s solicitation.

Others who’ve endorsed a marriage equality-inclusive Democratic Party platform include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Young Democrats of America Executive Director Emily Sussman, and the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Huffington Post reported this week that former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold is also supportive. On Thursday, The Advocate reported that four of Obama’s national committee co-chairs — Bennet, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) — also back including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.

The endorsement of these individuals puts them at odds with President Obama, who doesn’t support same-sex marriage, but continues to say he could evolve to support marriage equality. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether Obama wants to see support for same-sex marriage in the Democratic Party platform.

NOTE: The article has been updated to reflect the growing number of senators who support including marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • I don’t know why anybody would think anything that appears in the Democratic Party platform has the slightest correlation to how these people actually legislate once they’re safely elected and in power. The 2008 Party Platform included ENDA and workplace rights and we all saw how hard they fought for those goals once the election was over, didn’t we?

    Maybe in the interest of honesty they should rename the Party platform “The Official Democratic Party Election Year Pandering Agenda”.

  • OR the “Give Us Your Money for Our Re-Election Campaigns and We’ll Trick You Gullible Fools Again” official 2012 Democratic Party platform.

  • Right, because it’s only the Democrats who have done that. Luckily, this issue goes beyond mere politics, and beyond even following through with promises. Just the action of portraying support of same-sex marriage would be a huge boost to any kids or adults who find themselves feeling ostracized because of their sexuality. It would also, hopefully, let some voters who hold no opinion realize that this is indeed an issue that should be addressed.

  • I understand that Harkin, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Mikulski, Murray, and Schumer all voted for DOMA originally, in 1996. The $64,000 question: WHY???!?!?!

    Disgusting. Shame on them!!! Seriously. If denial of civil rights is clearly not OK in 2012, why was it apparently fine with so many in 1996? What kind of message did this send to vulnerable gay young people in 1996? (While I do applaud them for finally trying to undo the damage, now.)

    Boxer and Feinstein can be justifiably proud of doing the right thing in 1996 when colleagues who knew better spinelessly did not.

    The legacy on the no or yes votes on DOMA in 1996 — including Bill Clinton’s support — is forever. It’s a cautionary tale for all current legislators.

  • I have never been so proud of being a Democrat,learning about this plank since I, a Protestant, voted for JFK!

  • It will attract more voters to the Democratic party than it will “put off” since such people wouldn’t vote Democratic anyhow! However, it can energize the hard core bigots to campaign more vigorously for the Republican nominee. It could allow the Evangelicals to rally around Romney, who is a Mormon.

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